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November 21, 2013
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Vail Daily column: Post digging own grave

Newspapers seem intent on building the Web for TV companies and, well, everyone else who dares to provide news and opinion electronically.

It was inevitable that the paid papers would go this way. They couldn’t keep giving the stuff away for free online while charging for the paper edition, right?

What else to do?

And so in recent years The New York Times pioneered allowing a declining number of stories a month to be viewed for free before charging. A growing number of other papers tease a few lines, but you have to pay up to see the full stories.

Now the Denver Post is going to the “metered paywall.” When a technical term emerges, you know the fad has legs.

Problem is, these folks think they’re still in the driver’s seat. Like we can’t click away just like that to Fox, CNN, almost any news magazine site, Google, wherever, everywhere, to get the same news.

Here’s another problem for the Post:

The would-be wunderkind CEO of the company running them now — Digital First Media — provides a big clue in the first quote in the story announcing that the Post will start charging Dec. 2 for viewing their website.

“We need more gas in the tank if we are going to complete this journey of print-to-digital transformation,” says John Paton.

“We need ….”

Dude, no one cares what you need. Do you have what the viewers want, and is it worth paying for?

Unfortunately, the answer is unsatisfying if you are running a newspaper business. The Denver TV station sites will be the big winners here. Viewers will scan the Post’s home page for the headlines and click away to view stories elsewhere when they are blocked. With the budding rise of video popularity online, the timing of the paywall trend for newspapers is problematic at best, too.

The Post, like the nation’s other regional metros, is screwed. It’s too easy to get the national and world news from other sites, and the Post’s local fare isn’t all that compelling — at least not compelling enough for enough viewers to pay for it, not while other media are around to put all that up for free.

Really, this is a horse-and-buggy quandary that other news media just don’t share. Yes, there’s the cable or satellite bill for access to all the television you wish to see, and for the cell phone, too. That makes for a tantalizing next decision to charge for a specific brand, like The Wall Street Journal. Supposedly, the digital subscription is working for them.

The Vail Daily and the rest of the rare breed of community newspapers that are free in print to consumers don’t have this particular challenge. Our business model doesn’t work against itself as the Post’s does.

The Post might need more gas for its tank, but unfortunately for them, this is not a need shared across the news industry.

That’s a big problem for Mr. Digital First, and a huge opportunity to fill the vacuum that the Post appears doomed to provide soon enough.

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The VailDaily Updated Nov 21, 2013 10:00PM Published Nov 21, 2013 07:30PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.